Burundi: National Defense Force Forms an Engineer Unit With Help From SP-MAGTF Africa

Bujumbura — Soldiers with the newly formed 1st Sapper Company of the Burundi National Defense Force concluded ten weeks of training with Security Cooperation Team-2, Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa, June 28, 2012, with a final exercise and graduation ceremony.

The 1st Sapper Company is part of the BNDF's Engineer Battalion and is the first unit in the BNDF to have snipers, mortar men, machine gunners, medic, security forces, and engineers. The Marines provided training based on requests from the BNDF and suggestions from the U.S. Embassy in Burundi. The training brought each element of the unit together for the first time, and served as pre-deployment training for the unit which will deploy in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia or AMISOM.

"This company has different squads of engineers, snipers, machine guns, medics, and mortars," said Major Dismas Bigirindavyi, commander, 1st Sapper Company. "The idea was to create a force that works together. We believe this is going to help us a lot in the accomplishment of the mission in Somalia."

The Marines from SCT-2, Special Purpose-MAGFT Africa, also built on the Burundian soldiers' combat experience with training in combat life saver skills, marksmanship, patrolling, breaching, improvised explosive device detection, and small unit leadership.

"For the first four weeks we conducted some basic tests to help form the company, to determine who would fill which billet and be assigned to which platoon. We assigned soldiers to medical, mortar, machine gun, sniper, security force, engineer, and staff sections," said Major John Brown, team leader, SCT-2, Special Purpose- MAGTF Africa.

The training program provided each of these sub-units from the sapper company with training in their specific skill set for several weeks before bringing the unit together to learn how to counter improvised explosive devices and other obstacles.

"Al-Shabaab fight with snipers, IEDs, suicide bombers, and car bombers," Bigirindavyi added. "The IED detecting is going to help us a lot, cause we are going to be able to find IEDs and neutralize them."

The operational environment in Somalia has changed over the past few months and Al-Shabaab is adjusting its tactics. The training provided by the Marines was developed through coordination with the BNDF to help counter Al-Shabaab's recent adjustments.

Captain Claude Bizoza, a Marine Corps Basic Officer Course and Marine Corps Logistics Officer Course graduate, is the BNDF liaison office to the U.S. Embassy in Burundi. Bizoza said, "The training will be helpful as Al-Shabaab has suffered some losses. They've changed tactics to small arms and IEDs. We want to be able to face them on these IEDs. Now, they may not want to make contact with large units and for safety they keep to small attacks."

To evaluate the sapper company, the Marines organized a combined-arms breaching exercise which tested each sections proficiency and the company's ability to perform as a unit.

"For the final exercise we wanted to see them use all their support assets to suppress multiple objectives, breach an obstacle, and provide security at the breach sight," Brown said.

The Marines also evaluated the company leadership's ability to command and control the unit during the final exercise. They did this by inserting problems into the scenario that would force the unit leadership to use every skill taught in the 10-week training period.

Talking about his unit's performance during the final exercise, Bigirindavyi said, "We can say that we have been well equipped and we'll be able to work in a place where there are terrorists or Al-Shabaab."

The day after the final exercise the Marines and the BNDF soldiers gathered to celebrate the end of training with a graduation ceremony. Officials from the BNDF came to congratulate the unit on its accomplishment and the Marines provided certificates to the soldiers of the 1st Sapper Company.

"Soldiers, remember that in combat you will need to rely on the soldiers to your left and your right," said Brown during his speech to the 1st Sapper Company. "Leaders, take care of your soldiers. Without them you can accomplish very little."

Burundi National Defense Force officials also had kind words for the Marines. One official thanked the Marines for their work and later commented on the relationship that has been formed here in Burundi saying, "Long live cooperation between the United States and Burundi. Long live the U.S. Marine Corps!"

Special Purpose-MAGTF Africa is based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. The SP-MAGTF deploys small teams to support U.S. Department of State sponsored missions for Marine Forces Africa and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

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